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What Is Sexual Assault? . What Is a SART? . How Did SARTs Evolve?
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Defining Sexual Assault on Campus

Although campus policies and codes related to sexual assault cannot be enforced under state or federal law, institutions of higher education have made great strides in defining sexual assault and explaining sexual consent.

For example, a practical four-pronged definition for consent, developed by Dr. Alan Berkowitz,2 is applied to SART work below:

  • Both parties must be fully conscious. The greater the alcohol consumption, the less likely that consent is possible. A prevalent and contemporary myth is that if both parties are intoxicated, the assailant should not be responsible for assault. Dr. Berkowitz dispels the myth, stating that the responsibility to ensure consent is given rests with the person who initiates the sexual activity.
  • Several state laws address the issue of alcohol and consent.3 For example, a Wisconsin statute states that sexual assault occurs when victims are under the influence of an intoxicant to the degree that they are incapable of giving consent (Wis. Stat. ยง 940.225 (2)).

  • Both parties must be equally free to act. It is important to consider—
    • Body size: Smaller individuals may fear bodily harm from larger persons.
    • Previous victimization: Individuals who have been previously victimized may freeze in response to unwanted sexual contact.
    • Vulnerability: Individuals without transportation may feel stuck in coercive environments; furthermore, passengers are not as free to act as individuals who are driving.
  • Both parties have clearly indicated their willingness and permission. Assumptions made by initiators of sexual contact are not sufficient to imply consent. Consent, whether communicated verbally or nonverbally, is an active process. Not saying "no" does not mean "yes."
  • Both parties are positive and sincere in their desires. Insincerity by one person makes it impossible for the other person to respond with integrity. In other words, freely given consent cannot be given when one person says things they don't mean in order to "get sex."

On a national scale, a study on the sexual victimization of college women explored the prevalence and nature of sexual assaults on campus and specifically defined sexual assault as—

  • Unwanted penetration (or attempted penetration), which includes mouth on victim's genitals, mouth on assailant's genitals, and penile-vaginal, penile-anal, digital-vaginal, digital-anal, object-vaginal, and object-anal penetration.
  • Unwanted sexual contact (or attempted contact), which includes unwanted touching; grabbing or fondling of breasts, buttocks, or genitals (either under or over the victim's clothes); kissing; licking; sucking; or any other form of unwanted sexual contact.
  • Sexual coercion, which includes unwanted (or attempted) penetration with the threat of nonphysical punishment, promise of reward, pestering, or verbal pressure.